Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mobile Internet with your Cable bill?

So the big news/rumor of the day is the possible investment by cable co's (Time Warner & Comcast) in the Sprint + Clearwire WiMAX venture. The said deadline is the CTIA show in Vegas from Apr 1-3.

So what could this mean for consumers?
People who signup for an Internet service from cable companies get the option of a mobile service also that allows them to use their laptops and WiMAX mobiles anywhere. The home network is connected via the standard cable modem for really high-speed service (~ 5 Mbps), with the lowest latency and no battery life concerns. Mobile/portable devices access the WiMAX network (~ 1 to 2 Mbps) seamlessly, at home and outside. WiMAX femtocells could also be a future offering to quickly improve coverage by using a provisioned part of the cable network bandwidth.

What packages+pricing could be offered?
Cable Internet: $45
Mobile Internet: $25
Mobile VoIP: $15 all you can eat
Total: $75 to $85

Mobile VoIP is the operator's own VoIP service for those who want better quality/SLA than Skype which is likely to go under Best Effort (BE) traffic on a WiMAX traffic versus operator VoIP on ertPS (enhanced real-time Polling Service).

What would be interesting to see is how they would 'throttle' or 'shape' the traffic based on demand and match it with WiMAX QoS classes. Cable companies have been aggressively trying to limit bandwidth hogs and they definitely want to do this on an 'open-garden' wireless network. On an open device it will be impractical to forcefully tag each user installed application with a specific QoS class. Carrier apps like VoIP and carrier offered services will have pre-assigned classes. Will this be necessarily at higher classes than user/3rd party apps and how will it interplay with net-neutrality 'rules'?

Option 1: All applications go through a BREW/Nokia/Apple iPhone style signing & certification requirement. All signed applications are allocated a specific QoS class that cannot be changed by users. Unsigned applications are always forced to be Best Effort by the device.

Option 2: Free for all. Let applications and users decide.

Obviously, this is all water under the bridge (eh?), Sprint has probably decided on their model already. I notice inklings of extending/replicating the Sprint Dev./Partnership program (for EVDO & Nextel LBS) for WiMAX. Sprint execs have already talked about 'open' access, but no SLA guarantees at this point.

But the most important thing will be to keep the plans simple and make great devices available. I can't imagine having to deal with the day+night/weekend minutes plan in the data world.

WiMAX does offer some interesting options for dynamic network management & business models:
- allocate more 'streams/sessions' for VoIP at peak times (8 to 10 am, 4 to 7 pm)
- in emergencies, first responders can have higher priority access and normal users get best effort web & text service that does not tax the air interface
- allow signed app. service providers to bid for better QoS or atleast pay more for better QoS
- ESPN and pay for a signed app. that delivers better quality (even Skype could), while YouTube is okay with best effort

Ofcourse this kind of dynamic network management would require lots of additional standards or one carrier on a large enough network (Sprint + Clearwire with a nationwide footprint).

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